Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bicycle Coalition does some PR


New York City is trying to address the perception of cyclists as scofflaws:

This spring, the Midtown Community Court began sentencing cyclists who had been issued tickets for certain offenses in and around Midtown Manhattan to a class to learn about bicycles and traffic...It comes amid broad agreement among bike advocates and the Transportation Department that compelling riders to obey traffic signals, go with traffic and stay off the sidewalk is critical to improving the image of cycling and ensuring the long-term health of New York City’s expanding bicycle network. That mission will become even more important once the city’s bike-share program rolls out in the next month or so.

In the wake of the recent death of a pedestrian hit by a cyclist, the SF Bicycle Coalition apparently also felt compelled to address the issue of bad behavior by cyclists on city streets. First, it has to tell us about all the good the SFBC is supposedly doing. Instead of talking about scofflaw cyclists

We are busy talking about the significant San Francisco victories toward better biking—such as the dramatic 71% increase in the number of people biking in our city in the last five years. Thanks to the support of our 12,000 members, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is helping to Connect the City with streets that are inviting for people ages 8-to-80. And thanks to the success of Sunday Streets, parklets and bike corrals---projects we’ve had a strong hand in launching---our streets are more people-friendly and welcoming than ever before.

I question the wisdom of encouraging children to ride bikes on city streets, and I've already written about the unimpressive 71% increase claim.

These are big successes, and they should be bigger stories in the media and in conversations with City, community and business leaders. Yet, lately, much of our energy has gone to answer one persistent question: What are you doing about those scofflaw cyclists?

Parklets are a "big success"? The Coalition likes parklets because two or three parking spaces are eliminated to build them. Why anyone wants to sit on the street next to traffic noise and carbon monoxide and diesel fumes is still a mystery to me.

The Coalition also sees the problematic Wiggle as another success, as a "route in the Lower Haight area used by more than half a million bike trips each year." Many people who live on the Wiggle have a different, more negative view.

Finally we get to the reason the SFBC is even issuing this PR bulletin disguised as a statement of concern about bad behavior by cyclists:

The thoughtless actions of a few are not only causing real safety problems, but also creating a negative image of San Francisco bike riders overall. This is making it even more difficult for us to garner the support we need to get new, better bikeways on the ground. Winning these projects is not easy; we need all the support we can get, and there is a tough uphill battle ahead.

Actually, "winning" bicycle projects has been easy for the SFBC---so far. The bike lanes on the Panhandle will be built next year---eliminating 90 scarce neighborhood parking spaces in the process---and all the street parking on Masonic Avenue between Geary Blvd. and Fell Street will also be removed to make bike lanes.

The reality: the scofflaw issue does in fact undermine the image of cyclists in public opinion. I'm convinced that if the Bicycle Plan was on the ballot, it would be rejected by city voters. The Panhandle bike lanes and the Masonic Avenue project should also be on the ballot, since these projects have a citywide---in the case of Masonic Avenue, even a regional---impact. City voters should have an opportunity to vote on the radical changes to their streets being pushed by City Hall.

The SFBC then spends most of the rest of this document changing the subject from bad behavior by cyclists to---you guessed it---cars:

We urge the SFPD and other City leadership to stop focusing on perceived problems as a reaction to media attention and, instead, to respond with appropriate enforcement where the real problems exist. For years, we have urged the Police and other City partners to regularly and systematically review their own data on street crashes to identify hot spots and test approaches to reducing crashes in these locations. But this has not happened — yet.

Of course the city is in fact already doing this, as its annual collision reports tell us (see the latest collision report here. I'm told there's another due out at the end of the month). Hard to know whether the Bicycle Coalition, like Walk San Francisco, is lying about this or just doesn't know about these reports, which are available on the MTA's website. The reports show steady progress over the years by the city in reducing traffic injuries in San Francisco.

If the Bicycle Coalition is really concerned about scofflaw behavior by city cyclists, why doesn't it issue a statement condemning Critical Mass and asking its 12,000 members to not participate? (Leah Shahum had her bike epiphany at a Critical Mass demo.) Now that the Bicycle Coalition has stopped putting the cutesy Critical Mass item---with a weasly disclaimer---on its online calendar of events, it should take the next step: publicly denounce and discourage its membership from taking part in the monthly scofflaw demo that deliberately snarls traffic for people trying to get home from work.

San Francisco Citizen goes off on this document.

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